The General Assembly issued Gov. Bill Haslam a warm welcome to the House chamber before giving his speech a lengthly ovation. But lawmakers left with mixed feelings. Here’s what some of them had to say about the governor’s plan Monday night:
• Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who has given himself political wiggle room to be for or against the plan, said he plans on meeting with Haslam in the next few days over his own questions, largely focused on whether the state can get out of the program if it doesn’t work and whether the co-pays will be enforced.
“I don’t think the co-pays, deductibles are actually enforceable,” said Ramsey. “That is the centerpiece of this legislation, that you have the health credits for the health savings account that you get credits toward. But if they’re not enforceable, then what good does that do?”
Ramsey, who predicted a tough road ahead for the governor, said he’s also concerned the state may not be able to roll back the program should it prove too costly, a concern echoed through much of his caucus.
“I’d rather see it that you’re automatically disenrolled and people have to sign a letter that says, ‘This is two years only. Any questions?’ And you will be disenrolled in two years, period,’ as opposed to [the legislature] having to take a vote in two years to take them back off,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey added he still expects the full House chamber to vote on the legislation before the Senate does.
“My agreement with the governor all along has been the House votes on the floor first. I don’t know whether the committee action matters all that way, who goes first or not, but I still stick by my point the House goes first on the floor,” said Ramsey. “We just have to see how this week plays out and go from there.”
• House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican and ally of the governor’s who has yet to say how the governor’s plan sits with her, said the House is diverse said she’s looking forward to hearing what suggestions they want to make.
“We have a role as the legislature. The executive brings things to us and its our job to evaluate those and determine if its the best overall policy for the state going forward, and if we can financially carry this out long after he's no longer governor,” Harwell said after the speech, adding that she hasn’t made up her mind on the legislation yet.
“I still am an ally of the governor. I care deeply about him. As I’ve always said, when the governor is successful, the state is successful. I'll rely on this body to be deliberative, I think we all want to make sure that the governor is successful, but I think there are some legitimate concerns and things that going to have to be addressed by the body.”
• As he walked out of the House chamber after the governor’s speech, Franklin Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said he didn’t hear anything to think the governor’s plea had changed anyone’s mind.
“It was a good speech. It was impassioned. He had logic with why we got to where we are here today... I just don't think he convinced the 50 he needs to get his passed,” said Casada, who said he’ll vote against the legislation.
“As I walked through the hallway as the members were getting up and leaving, I did not hear one single member say, ‘Wow I changed my mind.’ As a matter of fact, I heard mostly, ‘Well, we'll see,’ kind of things, which is where they are before he spoke. So nothing’s changed as of now but he's got all day tomorrow.”
• Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville Republican who is sponsoring the governor’s bill in the Senate, said he thought the governor’s pitch was thoughtful and distinguished his plan from Obamacare.
“I was looking around the chamber, I feel like the members of the General Assembly were listening intently… I think he did an excellent job of explaining the program and that it is not Obamacare, that it is not an expansion of Medicaid, that it is a third way, a Tennessee way to provide coverage for citizens that is fiscally responsible and based upon conservative principles,” he said.
Asked if he thought the speech swayed any minds, Overbey added, “I hope my colleagues listened with an open mind. I think this proposal by Gov. Haslam deserves to be listened to and considered with an open mind as we weigh the benefits of it.”
• House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said nearly every Democrat is on board with the plan now, adding numbers after two weeks ago when his caucus only had 10 of 26 votes to contribute.
“I think we’re getting really close,” said the Democrat from Ripley. “We’re overwhelmingly for it now.”
“Frankly, from a political standpoint, he needed to frame that it was his plan and not a straight Medicaid expansion and I think he did that well because there's some differences to it and some of us are not that happy about the differences, but we know that this is an expansion that will cover upwards of 200,000 to 300,000 people in our state, so it’s certainly worth doing,” Fitzhugh added.
• Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, suggested the governor needs to give legislators cover by stressing his plan is not Obamacare.
“It’s got to come from an authoritative figure. The governor’s got to be consistent in making it clear that this is not Obamacare. I don’t know why he won’t call it Haslamcare. That’s what I’m calling it, because it’s unique in the way that it is outcome-based. It’s unique in a way that it put enough safeguards in place to where the local and state taxpayers are not on the hook now or later. That’s something different.”
But [Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores] Gresham told The Associated Press that she's now OK with the current standards after talking with teachers and other educators who have convinced her that "children are really learning."
"I have talked to teachers who have told me in so many words, at last, we are no longer dumbing down our children," she said. "That kind of encouragement is very important when other people are not so enthusiastic."
Asked what his chairwoman’s change of heart means for swapping out the education standards, his spokesman said: “Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s position has not changed. For our state’s rapid improvement in education to continue, Tennessee must have high standards.”
The lieutenant governor has opted to assign the Senate’s longest serving Democrats to its most important committee, snubbing freshman lawmakers elected to lead the minority party.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey placed Nashville Sen. Thelma Harper and Memphis Sen. Reginald Tate on the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The two are the only Democrats left from the previous General Assembly.
The decision leaves off Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris and Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro from the powerful committee which reviews all legislation with a cost. Last session, Senators in those top two party positions had a seat on that committee.
Ramsey told reporters last month he was mulling whether to go with experience or leadership role in committee assignments given three out of the five sitting Democrats are freshman legislators. However, he leaned toward favoring experienced legislators.
In past years, neither Harper nor Tate have been critical of the ruling Republican leadership. The role of questioning legislation pushed by the majority party has fallen on Democratic leaders as the caucus has worn thin.
Harris, the top Senate Democrat, is assigned to the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee. He is also assigned to the Calendar Committee which schedules when bills will reach the floor. Yarbro will serve on the Health and Welfare Committee, Transportation Committee and Rules Committee.
The full list of Senate committee assignments is here. House committee assignments are attached below.
Welcome back from the holiday interlude. Here’s what to expect from the legislature in the coming weeks:
Tuesday, Jan. 13 - The 109th General Assembly will gavel into session for the first time at 12 p.m., launching a two-year cycle of filing, debating and passing legislation. Lawmakers will begin the session by electing House and Senate speakers. Both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are expected to run unopposed. During this week, the elected speakers are expected to release legislators' committee assignments.
Wednesday, Jan. 14 - Legislators will meet in a joint session, likely at 9 a.m., this time to elect the state treasurer and comptroller. Those positions are currently manned by David Lillard and Justin Wilson, who are both expected to win reelection.
Thursday, Jan. 15 - Both chambers will meet together again, this time for mandatory ethics training.
Friday, Jan. 16 - The House and Senate are both expected to gavel in, although they’ll break before 10 a.m. to pack food for five major food banks feeding people in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and the Tri-Cities. That evening will kick off the governor’s string of inauguration events, beginning with free music at the Acme Feed & Seed at 1st and Broadway.
Saturday, Jan. 17 - After an 8:30 a.m. prayer service at the Ryman Auditorium, Gov. Bill Haslam will give his inauguration speech on War Memorial Plaza. The 11 a.m. outdoor event will last an hour, according to Joe Hall, spokesman for the governor’s inauguration committee.
Festivities will continue that evening with the first couple’s celebration dinner at the Omni Hotel at 6:30 p.m., an event with a $250 ticket cost which permits access to a ball to follow at 8 p.m. Entrance only to the ball is $50, and proceeds go toward paying expenses to put on inauguration day events, said Hall.
Sunday, Jan. 18 - The governor and first lady will open the residence to tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and legislators still in town for the weekend’s events will likely be headed home. The General Assembly likely won’t resume official business until the first week of February as they break for what staffers expect will be a two week organizational period. When lawmakers return, they anticipate spending the first week or two in a special session focused on Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid to low-income Tennesseans by way of his Insure Tennessee proposal. Haslam has yet to officially set the date for the special session.
Tennessee’s past, present and future in education will be up for examination later this month in a summit called by Gov. Bill Haslam and the legislature’s two speakers.
Nearly two dozen advocacy groups are invited to participate in the conference, including multiple teachers unions, groups representing superintendents, special education administrators, colleges training teachers.
“I think it’s an opportunity to examine what we have done right, and then to go a step further and look for ways to make some changes to do things even better,” Speaker Beth Harwell told Post Politics. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to come to the table to talk about things going right, things going wrong, where do we want to go from here.”
The agenda is a work in progress, according to the governor’s office, although Harwell said she expects a “full plate,” including discussion on Common Core, teacher evaluations and the charter movement. She said she expects the governor to digest the information and decide what policy moves he wants to make going into the next legislative session.
The event is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 18, at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown Hotel.
From the inbox:
“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than getting education right,” Haslam said. “We are making historic progress in Tennessee, and as part of that progress there has been a lot of change and discussion. This is a chance to review where we’ve been, take a look at where we are today, and make sure we’re planning for where we want to go.”
“The progress our state has made in education over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. As the cause of reform continues, it is important to take stock and reflect on our past successes with an eye towards mapping our future progress,” Ramsey said. “It is now more important than ever to ensure we provide our students with a strong, world-class education rooted in Tennessee values. I look forward to this opportunity to listen, learn and discuss how Tennessee can build on its historic gains in education.”
“We need to ensure that Tennessee students are getting the very best education possible, so that they can compete on the global stage,” Harwell said. “One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is facilitate discussions with those stakeholders who are working with our children every day, and determine what progress we have made, and where we can do better. We have made significant progress, but there is more that can be done.”
Participants of the meeting will be educators, administrators, elected officials, business leaders, higher education officials and representatives from advocacy groups including the following:
Achievement School District
Drive to 55 Alliance
Professional Educators of Tennessee
State Collaborative on Reforming Education
Superintendent Study Council
Tennessee Association for Administrators in Special Education
Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Tennessee Board of Regents
Tennessee Business Roundtable
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Tennessee Charter School Center
Tennessee County Services Association
Tennessee Department of Education
Tennessee Education Association
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
Tennessee Municipal League
Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents
Tennessee Parent-Teacher Association
Tennessee Principals Association
Tennessee School Boards Association
Tennessee State Board of Education
University of Tennessee
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